Chinese Checkers
Jude Wanniski
February 28, 2000


To: Sen. Jesse Helms [R-NC]
Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Reading Chinese Intentions

It was a pleasant surprise running into you Thursday at Bob Novak's book party. I'm just sorry you were leaving while I just was arriving; I would have liked to talk to you about China's latest move in its checker game with Taiwan. As in the past, I have a more benign view than most regarding Beijing's "threat" on the eve of Taiwan's national elections. In 1996, when China fired missiles into the Taiwan straits on the eve of the elections, the intent was not to dissuade voters from re-electing President Lee Teng-hui, who in any case won in a landslide. It was to remind the Taiwanese and the United States that it is serious about its claim on Taiwan, at a time when the anti-China coalition had been doing everything it could to encourage the independence movement on Taiwan. The fact that President Clinton then sent an aircraft carrier steaming into the region was of no particular significance, as there was no threat of military action anyway. In the 11,000-word paper issued last week by Beijing, there also was no threat of the use of force, although most of the news media played it that way -- with encouragement from the anti-China coalition.

Quite the contrary, Beijing again indicated it will consider the use of force only if the Taipei government indicates it no longer accepts the goal of one-China. Until and unless Beijing issues a paper stating that it will use force if there is no unification by a date certain, all that is happening is a reminder to Taiwan's government and ours that China is prepared to negotiate the terms of reunion for as long as it takes. Mao said he would wait a hundred years for this to take place, and the only way it will not happen, I think, is if the peaceful negotiations now underway were interrupted by a miscalculation in Washington. Of all the news dispatches I saw last week, the one that came closest to expressing Beijing's reasoning was by John Pomfret of The Washington Post. This was because Pomfret actually talked to an official of the Chinese government who explained what it was all about, and Pomfret reported it. This was the only place I read that the white paper contained major concessions to the Taiwan government, which encourages an acceleration of the bilateral talks when the elections next month produce a new government:

[I]n Monday's white paper, Beijing also dropped its demand that Taiwan publicly repudiate Lee's assertion last year that Taiwan and China should establish "special state-to-state relations." After years of insisting that Taiwan is merely a local Chinese government, Beijing suddenly said it will no longer raise that point and promised equal footing in any negotiations. Beijing also shelved a demand that talks must focus first on political reunification before dealing with other topics.

The senior Chinese official pointed out that in the section of the white paper that threatens war, the official Chinese version of the text says that Beijing could opt to use force only if Taiwan "indefinitely refuses to resolve the reunification issue by peaceful negotiations."

"Notice that there is no timetable in the document, so you shouldn't worry that we are about to invade," he said. "We simply are tired of the Taiwanese avoiding the issues."

We have to wonder, incidentally, about the views of certain columnists that are at such variance with what actually is taking place with China-Taiwan relations. Today's hysterical China-bashing NYTimes column by William Safire ignores real evidence that Taiwan seems to be accepting the Beijing statement in that spirit and that talk of independence is nowhere to be found in the election campaigns and the Taipei business establishment is more gung ho than ever integrating commercial relations with the mainland. I haven't seen anything about it in our major papers, but the Financial Times of February 25 reports that a delegation of about 100 "top executives" of the National Federation of Industries is scheduled to visit Beijing and other mainland cities right after the March 18 presidential election:

Taiwanese businessmen are estimated to have invested more than US$40bn on the mainland in the last decade, creating a business presence that analysts say is a powerful disincentive to military action by Beijing against Taipei. However, the enthusiasm for cheap labor, low costs and lax regulation has also undermined efforts by Taipei to minimize the island's economic dependence on the mainland. All leading candidates in the March vote have called for the easing of curbs on direct links and loosening restrictions on investment if ties improve. Analysts said the business federation visit would act as a potent reminder to the next president of such promises.

Yes, Senator, Taiwan political leaders continue to say there can be no political integration until there is "democracy" on the mainland, meaning multiparty elections, but that is something that will come in due time. Until very recently, there were no meaningful elections in Taiwan. Now, throughout China, there are contested elections within the rubric of the Communist Party, which is the natural precursor to a multi-party system. Remember, it is only very recently that there has been a two-party democracy in Dixie, including your own state of North Carolina. The direction continues to be positive, and that's what counts.